On Nov. 3, 2020, Americans went to the polls in record numbers and voted to give Democrats control of the House, Senate, and the White House based on the promise that we would finally deliver on the most pressing issues facing our country, including voting and civil rights, health care, climate change, immigration and gun safety.
Little did they know, nearly a year later, that an archaic, procedural maneuver known as the filibuster would prevent us from delivering on the very issues that helped give Democrats control of the Senate and the White House. More than 245 years ago, we declared our independence from Great Britain, and in doing so rejected being ruled by a monarch in favor of a government for the people, by the people, and of the people.
While the filibuster has existed in the Senate for almost 200 years, its use didn’t take off until the Jim Crow era when southern senators used the tactic to block progress on the civil and voting rights of Black Americans. From 1951 until 1970, the filibuster was used a total of 24 times — a little more than once per year. Now, in the last two-and-a-half years alone, the filibuster has been used to block 32 Senate votes from taking place — nearly 13 times each year. Just last week, we saw Senate Republicans use the filibuster to prevent even debating voting rights legislation.
The filibuster, which isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution, has prevented this Congress from making progress on nearly every major issue. More than 70 years after the Jim Crow era ended, it is still being used to block civil rights legislation like the John LewisJohn LewisWith extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Obama, Dave Chappelle nominated in same Grammy category Progressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign MORE Voting Rights Advancement Act, the For the People Act, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the DREAM Act, and the Equality Act — even though each of these bills have overwhelming public support.
Instead of passing legislation into law with the support of the majority in both chambers, the will of the American people is being blatantly and undemocratically subverted by the filibuster, which has brought Washington to a standstill. It used to be that if a senator wanted to filibuster legislation, they had to hold the Senate floor and block the vote by speaking for hours on end without food, water, or even a break to sit down. Today, just the mere mention of a filibuster is enough to stop legislation dead in its tracks.
It’s time for us to get back to what our Framer’s intended and heed the advice of Alexander Hamilton, who warned that requiring a supermajority for regular legislative business would “lead to tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; [and] contemptible compromises of the public good.”
We must eliminate the filibuster completely, or at the very least, make sure that it cannot be used as a weapon to defeat legislation that promotes, protects, and defends civil rights, voting rights, and our democracy. A procedural tactic should not be used to deny BIPOC individuals their right to vote or allow an LGBTQ+ American to be discriminated against just because one person wants to stand in the way of progress.
America cannot endure as a country where the minority regularly overrules the will of the majority, especially on issues as basic as ensuring that every person in our society enjoys the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.
The Senate has the power to do away with this relic of the pre-civil rights era. It should use this power today and end the tyranny of the minority that is allowing so many important bills to die the moment they are delivered from the House.
It’s time to choose: the filibuster or democracy.
David N. Cicilline represents Rhode Island’s 1st District.